Sometimes a theater production is so breathtaking and original that it’s a privilege to have experienced it. Theatre Raleigh’s “The Light in the Piazza” creates an indelible memory, enhanced by its visionary staging at the N.C. Museum of Art.
The musical, based on a 1960 novella by author Elizabeth Spencer, who lives in Chapel Hill, takes place in 1953. Winston-Salem socialite Margaret Johnson and her attractive 26-year-old daughter Clara are touring museums in Italy, conveniently keeping Clara away from suitors back home. Margaret protects her because a childhood accident has slowed Clara’s mental and emotional development.
But Clara is eager to experience romantic love. A chance meeting with handsome young Fabrizio in Florence sparks a relationship Margaret is unable to quash. Soon there’s a marriage proposal, something Margaret must wrestle with, weighing Clara’s unbridled happiness with what reality may bring.
“Light” is an intimate work requiring sensitive direction for its fragile emotions and heartrending content. Director Eric Woodall proves his mastery of such material in this stunning staging.
The museum’s West Building central court becomes the acting space, the audience seated on opposite sides, with Julie Bradley’s fine orchestra of strings and piano in the adjacent gallery. The cast quietly moves white-painted benches and chairs in tightly choreographed scene changes, creating a dreamlike quality that’s furthered by LeGrande Smith’s white-and-cream period costumes. Scenic and lighting designer Thomas Mauney’s sunlight and candlelight add glowing warmth to the museum’s statuary and art pieces.
Judy McLane’s Margaret seems coldly controlling at first but she slowly reveals the character’s regrets and hopes in kaleidoscopic fashion. Hilary Maiberger’s Clara is so vulnerable it hurts to watch, but she pulls the audience into rooting for Clara’s happiness. Conor Ryan’s openhearted Fabrizio makes the character’s instant infatuation entirely believable. Ken Griggs gives Fabrizio’s father, Signor Naccarelli, stern authority laced with appealing charm. Austenne Grey as his wife and Maigan Kennedy as their daughter Franca are convincing as fiery Italian women. Newlin Parker as Fabrizio’s bumbling brother Giuseppe, Dan Callaway as Margaret’s estranged husband Roy, Derek Robinson’s officious priest and Lisette Glodowski’s tour guide and dancer complete the nigh perfect cast.
The actors sing Adam Guettel’s quirky, often operatic score confidently and speak the plentiful Italian dialogue fluently, further indicating Woodall’s firm hand in making this extremely satisfying production yet another triumph for Theatre Raleigh.
What: “The Light in the Piazza,” presented by Theatre Raleigh
Where: N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. July 7, 9, 10-14
Tickets: $32.50 (seniors $30.50)
Info: 919-832-9997 or theatreraleigh.com